Friday, October 09, 2009

New York City gets FRESH with new Grocery Store Incentives


Cody Lyon
NEW YORK CITY-To the developer, owner or grocery chain looking for a potentially recession-proof and, perhaps, highly profitable investment opportunity, consider this: New York City, the most densely populated city in the United States, is experiencing a shortage of grocery stores and supermarkets, particularly in lower-income areas where lack of access to fresh produce contributes to higher rates of diabetes and obesity. Hoping to impact health outcomes by encouraging greater private investment in supermarket-challenged areas, the Bloomberg administration is proposing the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health program, or FRESH.

Through enticing zoning initiatives, the proposed action, set to be voted on by the City Council sometime this year, seeks to “facilitate the development of stores that sell a full range of food products,” with an emphasis on perishable items that are fresh.

“Part of what the incentives are meant to do is attract the attention of the business community to the opportunities they’ve been missing out on,” Ben Thomases, New York City’s first ever food policy coordinator, tells He and representatives from other city agencies spearheading the proposal believe that "landlords, developers and supermarket operators haven’t quite put together that the growth of population in these communities, and the lack of high quality supermarkets, is a lucrative opportunity."

In fact, according to research by the Center for an Urban Future’s City Limits magazine, 1.67 million New Yorkers have, on average, less than one square foot of grocery store space each. Of those, 74,178 have no grocery store at all. More recently, the Department of City Planning summed that up more grimly, saying that three million New Yorkers are caught in areas with limited access to fresh produce, areas of the nation’s largest city it calls “food deserts.”

The stats tell a typical tale of urban sociological disparity. According to a 2008 study by the New York City Economic Development Corp. and the Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene and City Planning, a good number of the fresh food denied, live in low to moderate income neighborhoods. That lack of easy access and choice contributes to the fact that some city neighborhoods are home to some of the nation’s highest rates of diabetes and obesity and all the ills that come with it.

“We have wealthy neighborhoods in Manhattan where less than 10% of the adults are obese, and low income neighborhoods in the South Bronx, north and central Brooklyn where more than 30% of the adults are obese,” says Thomases. “Even if you factor out median income or mean educational attainment in an area, you still find that the presence or absence of a quality grocery store makes a substantial difference in health outcomes in that area.”


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